This hilltop town was, at one time, unspoiled, unadulterated, Italy. The town gained touristy-mayhem popularity in the early 2000’s in part to Rick Steves’ travel guides, but has since seen a decline in the frenzied camera-ready flocks of tourists and a rebirth back to some degree of the normalcy it once revered.
The town was once inhabited by Etruscans over 2,500 years ago and it has seen its population dwindle to about 20 mainstay residents today…hence the unofficial nickname that was given to it, “La Citta` Che Muore” (The City That Is Dying). Last time I was there, I think I met about 45% of the town’s population in one day.
This is that quaint town that you (or at least, I) have been searching for in Italy. You can wander through the antico borgo (historic neighborhood) and soak up its peaceful stillness. The town is so peaceful that you can hear the echo of your own footsteps on the cobblestone streets, only to be punctuated by the occasional distant sound of dishes being set around a resident’s table in anticipation of lunchtime. In warmer weather, through the open windows you can actually hear the sounds of local residents preparing and sharing meals, watching soccer on television, playing cards, and attending to their daily household activities. The town is so peaceful, I think you can hear the residents reading. Yes, reading, I say. (Insert random thought here...the cast of MTV's Jersey Shore will probably not be visiting here any time soon).
I like to stop by this tiny hamlet on my way from Rome to Florence by car. Civita di Bagnoregio is just 80 km north from Rome (about 1.5 hours driving) directly on the A1 autostrada (highway) between Rome and Florence. I prefer to leave Rome in the morning just before or after rush hour, allowing myself enough time to arrive at Civita di Bagnoregio around 10 or 10:30 in the morning, just as the town is waking up. There is plenty of time to meander through the entire borgo prior to lunchtime, and I like to start making my way back to Florence with enough time to stop for lunch. Just after leaving Civita di Bagnoregio and before reaching the A1 highway again, there is a tiny village called Lubriano. It is in this village where you will find a great restaurant, Il Vecchio Mulino, that offers a surprisingly good lunch at reasonable prices with a view of Civita di Bagnoregio in the backdrop. If the temperature is right, ask for a table on the terrace to enjoy the view of Civita. For an appetizer, I like the pappa al pomodoro, a hearty tomato and bread soup. The first courses also feature some excellent local soups, like carabaccia, an onion soup, or zuppa di funghi, mushroom soup. For the second course, the cibreo, a traditional chicken liver stew, is not to miss, nor is the pollo alla viterbese (traditional chicken dish of Viterbo), roast chicken typically stuffed with green olives and potato.
Via Marconi, 25
Usually closed Mondays
$30-40 per person for lunch (antipasto, first course, second course, dessert) excluding vines
In good weather, don’t forget to ask for a table on the terrace!
Whether I am in and around this area of Italy, or just reminiscing about it, I like to try the wines of Orvieto. Orvieto is both a medieval town AND a wine. Both are music to my ears. :) Orvieto – ahem, the town – is in the vicinity of Civita di Bagnoregio, just 20 km north, and can also be reached by car along the A1 autostrada if you’re traveling between Rome and Florence.
(That's my Mom and my Sister on the right!)